Hogrocket is a learning experience for us, and we’re quite accepting of the fact that we’ll sometimes get it wrong. None of us thought we’d get everything right first time… mistakes are inevitable. We’re treating the entire thing as a learning process, and one of the best ways of learning is to make mistakes and then act to correct them. I also figure that writing about them on the blog is going to help get external input from fresh eyes.
So, our first mistake then. Actually it was something fairly innocent – we confused our efforts to save money against our efforts to maintain forward momentum on the project. Here’s how it went down:
Initially we looked at renting some office space around Liverpool, and we investigated several really nice places. We priced it all up, made some financial forecasts, and then got scared. We’d need to turn a profit pretty quickly in order to afford all of this stuff – remember, we’re self-funded. Making decent money in the current climate is anything but guaranteed.
We then did the sensible thing, and spoke to our elders. We’re lucky enough to know some extremely senior and knowledgable people from around the games industry, so we asked their advice. Needless to say, what they said was spot on: keep lean and mean until your business is proven viable. We took this advice to heart, and changed a few plans. We decided that we could live without an office for now.
We then figured that we’d set up an office in one of our houses, dedicating a room to Hogrockety stuff. Again we did the forecasts, and as we live a fairly long way from one another this time the big cost was petrol. Unfortunately petrol is expensive in the UK (and getting pricier all the time) so it’s a legitimate concern. That’s where we made our first mistake: we actually went too far in the other direction. We made the decision to cut out this petrol cost by each of us working from home. We wouldn’t be in the same location, but rather we’d each work remotely.
In fairness, we had a pretty good setup. We’d meet up in person for 2 or 3 days a week, and then work remotely for the rest of the time. When working from home we booked regular video conferencing calls between the three of us (every few hours), we ran rolling e-mail threads, and we tracked each of our progress online. The end result was that we saved money and still had our finger on the pulse of the game’s development. We didn’t think any problems would arise, given how individually motivated the three of us are.
The difficulty started when the three of us started to drift apart in our approaches. It wasn’t the big picture stuff – more the details in the execution. Our ideas were always similar, but the devil is in the details and working remotely meant that we lost that essential element of our discussions. Essentially we over-estimated all the advantages that technology could give us, and under-estimated the importance of sitting in the same room and peering over one another’s shoulder.
It became apparent that working as a team is more important than the nuts and bolts of our daily routines – it’s all about the emotions of the team members and their attitudes relative to one another. This is something that has become incredibly obvious to us over the first few months of Hogrocket. It’s worth noting that the majority of communication between two people is non-verbal, and when you work remotely you lose some of these human instincts. It’s difficult to make concrete decisions because it’s tough to judge whether everybody is 100% happy with the outcome when you’re not in the same room. In the end we realised that we were taking more time making decisions than we were making content…
Part of our strategy is to remain agile. Being agile means that you constantly evaluate what you’re doing, and try to improve on it if at all possible. Needless to say, we noticed that we weren’t operating as efficiently as possible due to this remote working. We sat down and had a discussion about exactly how we were working, and how we could improve it. The result is that we now all work in a single location, sitting side-by-side as much as humanly possible.
With hindsight this all sounds obvious, but it’s easy to put too much faith in technology and the benefits it can bring. Video conferencing is fantastic and the level of remote connectivity we have is pretty incredible, but they are still no substitute for sitting right next to each other. If we had many, many months to get this right then I think remote working could work, but we are on a tight deadline (being self-funded means that we’re always on a ticking clock) and we just don’t have the luxury of the time to get used to it.
I’ll try to share some more of our hard-learned lessons in the future. I’m hoping that somebody will find this information useful. Thanks for reading!
This was originally posted on Ben Ward’s personal blog.